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The excellent music, art and drama provision is the reason that many parents choose St Ed’s and almost all children get involved in it in some form or another. Music has been at the heart of the school since its foundation and the cathedral choristers are a big part of the school. Busy art department where pupils can do anything and everything from photography, ceramics and textiles to fine art and stained glass. Some feel that sport could be…

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What the school says...

Children learn effectively when they are happy and motivated. To enable this, we provide a lively, challenging education in a safe, nurturing environment for boys and girls aged 2 - 18. We have high expectations for excellent academic achievement and for enthusiastic involvement in extra-curricular activities; we are renowned for outstanding opportunities in music, drama and the creative arts. We are a friendly school with a family atmosphere and by valuing each pupil in our care, we help them develop the skills and independence to attain their goals and achieve at the highest levels. The boarding community is vibrant and happy where boarding for boys and girls, aged 8 to 18, can be on a weekly, flexi, or full basis. Overlooking the historic city of Canterbury, St Edmund's is situated in the heart of Kent with high speed rail links to London. ...Read more

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All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

Choir school - substantial scholarships and bursaries usually available for choristers.


Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head of school

Since 2018, Ed O’Connor, previously deputy head since 2013. Welcoming and likeable. Read history at Peterhouse, Cambridge followed by a masters in international relations at Oxford. Spent five years in investment banking before deciding that teaching was all he had ever wanted to do and took an MEd at Cambridge. Reckons his banking years toughened him up and are useful when he is talking about careers with sixth formers. Joined St Alban’s School as head of history and politics, thence to Sutton Valence as director of sixth form and head of history before moving to The Perse as head of sixth form and politics and a history teacher. Believes this school stands out for its pastoral ethos. ‘We look at what is special about a child and work with it - we celebrate their strengths and strengthen their weaknesses.’ Adds that a sense of humour runs through the school and the staff are a delight to work with and will always go the extra mile for the children – especially so during the pandemic.

Popular with parents, pupils and staff: ‘He runs a happy ship.’ ‘He is approachable and has a good rapport with parents and children and is liked and respected by staff.’ ‘He knows all the children by name and really seems to care about them.’ ‘He delivers his speeches without notes and has the gift of making everyone he talks to feel special and he is also very entertaining.’

Lives on site with his wife Jude, who works at the university, and their two children, both at the school. He teaches history and English when he can and when he is not working he enjoys walking on the beach and being outdoors.

Ross Comfort has been head of junior school since September 2022. Previously deputy head and then acting head, he has been at the school for 10 years. The head of the pre-prep is Sarah Bartholomew, who took the role in September 2022.


From local primaries and prep schools such as Spring Grove, Northbourne Park, Lorenden and Wellesley House and sometimes from the grammar schools at 13+. Some join the nursery at the age of 2 but main intakes into years 3, 7 and 9 and the sixth form (the school will take into other years if there are spaces). Informal assessment day for year 3, assessment day and some tests for years 4, 5 and 6 and more formal tests for years 7 and 8. Year 9 entry is via Common Entrance or the school’s own tests as well as a reference and report. Sixth form entrants need six 4s GCSEs with at least 5s in subjects to be studied at A level plus reference and report. International applicants interviewed via video and those not taking GCSEs tested in chosen A level subjects plus English if not their first language.


Around five move elsewhere after the prep - and a small number after GCSEs - usually to local state schools. Almost all go on to university with about half to Russell Group to read anything from maths, history and law to agriculture and international relations. Exeter, UCL, Bath, Warwick and Oxford Brookes are most popular, followed by KCL, Bristol and Edinburgh. A couple to Oxbridge most years (none in 2023). Oxbridge candidates and medics are well prepared with pre-reading seminar groups interview practice. Some go on to top drama and art schools and conservatoires. The careers department is open to ideas other than university - a couple a year move on to degree apprenticeships and others to internships and vocational training colleges. The school runs the Prue Leith Programme in the sixth form and one boy moved straight to a training position in a restaurant.

Latest results

In 2023, 35 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 26 per cent A*/A at A level (53 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 36 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 29 per cent A*/A at A level (59 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

The school caters for all abilities and children are stretched to achieve their best, whatever that may be, and no one is expected to fit into a mould. The headmaster has upped the academic ante and university destinations are increasingly ambitious.

Twenty-two subjects offered at GCSE including computer science, food preparation and nutrition, sports science (GCSE equivalent) drama, dance, art and design and ceramics. Most pupils take combined science but can also take three separate subjects. Twenty-five subjects offered at A level including computer science, sports science, photography and product design. Most start with four A levels and drop one at the end of the first term.

Class sizes usually 15-16 and sixth form classes often very small and more like university tutorials. There were only three pupils in one biology lesson we visited.

Successful EPQ programme mentored by PhD ambassadors from the University of Kent. The school also runs an internal EPQ, The Durrell Essay named after Lawrence Durrell who was at the school. Sixth formers can take the leadership and management diploma. All learn cooking from year 9 which includes diet and nutrition and the Leith’s course is offered in the sixth form.

A dedicated team of teachers most of whom are in their late 30s/early 40s with a few more venerable members of staff and a handful of NQTs who come with new ideas and challenge practices. Supervised prep can be done at school, a boon for working parents and children can come in for subject clinics on Saturday mornings.

Weekly programme of talks by visiting speakers known as the Curiosity Shop on a wide range of subjects from power and freedom to fine art.

Children in the junior school learn how to navigate the internet and are introduced to machine learning and AI, as well as being taught to search on Google for what is true and what’s not. The ICT genius lab gives a real life context to ICT. They are taught to see a link between the past and the present with questions like ‘what do the Romans tell us about today - who were the Tik Tokkers of ancient times?’ French taught by native speakers and years 7 and 8 learn Spanish for a term. Children take a St Edmund’s Diploma to introduce them to the concept of an original research project. They are gradually prepared for the move to the senior school and years 7 and 8 take on leadership roles. They are taught by specialist teachers in a separate block in the senior school from year 6 and use the art and DT facilities and use the science labs where they make fireworks for bonfire night. Forest School also on offer in juniors.

Learning support and SEN

Two full-time members of staff and a director of learning enhancement monitor all students with additional needs. Problems are identified early and staff work closely with subject teachers to ensure the right support is in place - could be either one to one or in small groups and includes English, maths, organisational and social skills, revision and exam techniques. Usually a couple of EHCPs. The able, gifted and talented are stretched through academic clubs and societies like debating and the curiosity shop. About 10 pupils have EAL support either individually or in small groups.

The arts and extracurricular

The excellent music, art and drama provision is the reason that many parents choose St Ed’s and almost all children get involved in it in some form or another.

Music has been at the heart of the school since its foundation and the cathedral choristers are a big part of the school. Some have been selected for the National Children’s Orchestra, the National Youth Orchestra and Kent Youth Choir but there are ensembles for all talents and abilities and some take part just for the fun of it. Music and music tech are both offered at A level. The school has its own 450 seat tiered theatre as well as a recital hall, practice rooms and music tech suites. ‘The music and drama are exceptional,’ said a parent, ‘and the teachers are phenomenal and will help pupils with their audition speeches to drama school even after they have left.’ ‘The plays are National Youth Theatre standard – everyone was blown away by a recent production of Chicago,’ said another. A production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ staged in a glade in the woods at the end of the summer term was magical, we heard. As the stage set was made of paper mâché there was some trepidation about the English weather though thankfully the rain held off. The junior school puts on one big production a year and sometimes take part in senior plays and musicals.

Busy art department where pupils can do anything and everything from photography, ceramics and textiles to fine art and stained glass. The school has its own dark room and printing press. DT is another hub of creativity where pupils are encouraged to design things for the real world; they visit the design museum in London and take part in London Design Week. The GCSE and A level art exhibition was in full swing when we visited with a beautifully curated display of portraits, masks and photographs – a rival to any commercial art gallery.

A wide range of clubs and activities includes riding, chess, mindfulness and debating and the hot chocolate club (a good excuse for a chat). Busy outdoor education department which includes CCF and DofE – about 100 children take bronze every year and five to six achieve gold annually.


Sport for all and sport for fun with all the usual team sports except rugby. The school has started an elite athlete development programme for the most able and is flexible with the timetable to fit in training sessions. School is supportive of outside sporting interests and has developed a link with Chelsea Football Club’s Foundation department for super talented footballers, as well as with Kent and Boughton golf club. Despite this, some feel that sport could be celebrated a bit more. Strong individual sports but difficult to compete at team sports with the much larger schools in the area, we heard. Sports pitches are all on site and there are two ex-professional cricketers on the sports staff. Heated outdoor pool for summer use - a cover is on the headmaster’s shopping list.


About 80 full boarders from 20 different countries as well as a number of weekly and flexi boarders. About a quarter are British ex-pats and Gurkhas. Occasional boarders are welcome if there is space – useful for parents who have to travel for business.

Junior boarders (aged 10-14) live in School House in small dorms with their own common room. They have supervised prep and evening activities. Senior boys live in the main school building with the younger ones housed in cubicles which have been carved out of the huge nineteenth century dormitories – popular as no one gets left out. Older pupils share two to four to a room with ensuite bathrooms, while sixth form have either double or single rooms. Several common rooms and games rooms with PlayStations and computers and kitchen areas for preparing snacks. The sixth form girls have their own house.

No Saturday school but Saturday activities are organised for boarders and day pupils often come in to join in the fun. Outings to museums, theme parks and shopping trips on Sundays but pupils often prefer to stay in school to relax and catch up with work. School encourages boarders to mix with day pupils but some tend to ‘keep themselves to themselves,’ according to a parent.

The choristers (all boys aged from 8 years) live in Choir House within the cathedral precincts. All are full boarders due to Sunday commitments. They sing in the cathedral six days a week and most learn two musical instruments and take lessons in the theory of music. They come up to St Ed’s by minibus and enjoy a normal school day before returning for evensong and rehearsals.

Ethos and heritage

St Edmund’s was established in Yorkshire 1749 as the Clergy Orphan School and following a move to London, it settled in Canterbury in 1855. It is centred around the original School House, a monument to high Victorian exuberance with chapel attached. It is set in 45 acres on St Thomas’s Hill with views to the Cathedral. Not all buildings are architectural gems but there is a rolling programme of refurbishment and the newly built academic hub contains eight bright and airy new classroom with more planned. The grounds are immaculate and include a meadow and a pond for studying biodiversity. The junior school has its own modern self-contained building with bright, colourful classrooms and its own playground within the grounds of the senior school and can share many of the facilities.

The chapel is the physical and spiritual heart of the school and there is a strong Christian ethos but all faiths and none are welcome. All eat in the panelled dining room which offers a good choice of home cooked food including a vegetarian option

Head has increased community involvement and the school is part of East Kent Schools Together. They share facilities with local schools and pupils help with reading in primary schools. Pupils are encouraged to develop an awareness of their community and a social conscience and St Ed’s has longstanding links with local charities including Pilgrim’s Hospice and Catching Lives, a homeless centre in Canterbury.

All pupils, day and boarding, are assigned to one of the four houses named after local historical figures. Strong house loyalty and friendly competition enables friendships to form across year groups.

Well known alumni include actor, Orlando Bloom; concert pianist, Freddie Kempf; businessman Sanjeev Gupta; vaccine manufacturer, Adar Poonawalla and middle distance athlete, Alexandra Millard as well as a number of first class cricketers, church and military men.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

‘The school does pastoral care to perfection,’ said a parent and everyone else we spoke to agreed. ‘Pastoral care is the bedrock of a successful education,’ reckons the head, 'and if a child is happy everything else follows.’ Each pupil has a personal tutor who oversees their development throughout their time at St Ed’s. All staff are trained in safeguarding including business services and administrative staff. There is a strong family atmosphere and everyone knows who to turn to for help, with posters all over the place. There are two school counsellors, one full one part time, and an independent listener as well as a peer listening programme for sixth formers – pupils are well trained and know what to do and it is very popular for both sides. In juniors, children meet their form tutor every morning and afternoon so that a close eye can be kept on wellbeing including friendships, e-safety and nutrition.

Misdemeanours are usually minor and dealt with by a mixture of rewards and sanctions. Zero tolerance of any form of bullying, with all issues taken seriously and with swift action. E safety officer monitors internet activity and all sign an ICT code of conduct. Everyone knows where they stand.

Pupils and parents

St Ed’s attracts creative and arty families, many of whom run their own businesses or work for the university. ‘Hardworking middles’ was how one parent described them and many make great sacrifices to send their children here. They are generally very supportive of the school and there is a strong sense of community which was strengthened during the pandemic. We found them down to earth, without airs and graces. Active PA runs all the usual events eg summer ball, coffee mornings and quizzes. There is a palpable sense of family and parents feel involved with school life. Staff are quick to respond even for small things. About 15-20 per cent of families are international.

Pupils are natural and charming without a hint of arrogance. Some have had a difficult start elsewhere but have blossomed at St Edmund's and felt lucky to be there.

Money matters

Academic, art, drama, music and sports scholarships of varying values as well as a small number of means tested bursaries for new and existing families. Twenty-five per cent discount to children of clergy and employees of Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral. Boarding discounts for children of members of the armed forces and sibling discounts for third and subsequent children who are at the school at the same time.

The last word

A school that has upped its game in recent years. Particularly strong on pastoral care, with children telling us they feel safe and well cared for, while its relatively small size means that children are can progress at their own pace. Ultimately, it's about doing your best, whether it is in the classroom, the stage, the art room or the sports field. The school motto ‘Be all you can be’ sums it up nicely.

Please note: Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

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